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Mafia Politics- Or Why I’m Almost Missing John Ashcroft

May 17th, 2007 | by Ken Grandlund |

John Ashcroft, for all his evangelical world view mentality, is beginning to look like some kind of Hall of Justice Superhero when compared with Alberto Gonzales. And that’s saying a lot about a man who needed to cover up a statue to obscure her nude breasts, a statue which would have gone mostly unnoticed had he not taken efforts to draw attention to its previous partial nudity.

In fact, in light of recent testimony in Congress, John Ashcroft looks like the only rational bulwark against an executive branch so drunk with power that it employed Mafia like tactics to keep one of its most controversial (and most probably illegal) programs from being identified or abridged.

I’m talking of course about the NSA “terrorist surveillance program” that the Bush Administration claims targeted international communications between terrorists abroad that originate or end within the US. The program, started covertly after the 9-11 attacks, operated outside the already established framework of the FISA courts that were in fact designed to address similar situations. And although the president insisted time and again that the program was directly responsible for saving the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people and was responsible for preventing a terrorist attack on American soil, there is in fact no real evidence to back that up. And forgive me for not taking Bush’s word on this. The man hasn’t exactly proven himself to be a “truthteller.”

When the news of the program came to the public front in 2005, the Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep the program going, arguing for its legality in the face of common sense (the opposition claiming that the program was a constitutional violation), but then abruptly abandoned the program in 2007, saying it would revert to the “old fashioned” FISA court program that granted much of the same authorities to conduct warrantless wiretaps in ‘emergency’ situations. This abandonment of the NSA program clearly wasn’t what the Bush team had wanted, but revelations about another domestic wiretapping program pretty much showed Americans that Bush wanted to know a lot more than just what the terrorists were up to. He wanted to keep an eye on everyone.

These revelations created a furor on Capitol Hill and around the country, especiallly among citizens who didn’t particularly enjoy their civil rights trampled in the name of safety. Most Americans didn’t think they were included in George W. Bush’s infamous “You’re either with us or against us” declaration. But as other scandals surrounding the Bush administration came to fruition, and with a Republican controlled Congress still at the helm, the NSA programs and subsequent backlash gave way to Abramoff, Plamegate & Libby, the US attorney firings, an ever-failing war in Iraq, energy gouging, and war profiteering, and finally a reversal in power in Congress.

Which brings me back to my (slightly) renewed opinion of John Ashcroft. Ashcroft’s number two man, James Comey testified before Congress recently about events surrounding the original renewal of the NSA program. It seems that a review of the program by the DOJ in 2004, a program that at that time had been in secret operation for about three years, concluded that it should not be continued. Ashcroft and Comey had decided not to recertify the program as legal and conveyed their rationale to the White House. Shortly thereafter, Ashcroft underwent surgery, leaving Comey in control of the DOJ. And it was during Ashcroft’s absence that the NSA program had to get recertification or end.

From PBS.org:

MARGARET WARNER: Under questioning by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, Comey said that, on the evening of March 10th — one day before the program’s authorization was due to expire — he learned that then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card were on their way to Ashcroft’s hospital room.

JAMES COMEY: … told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran up, literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: What was your concern? You were in obviously a huge hurry.

JAMES COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card.

They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there: to seek his approval for a matter. And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and, in very strong terms, expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which…

MARGARET WARNER: Comey said Card and Gonzales left, but within minutes he got a call from Card.

JAMES COMEY: … Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present. He replied, “What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.”

I was very upset; I was angry. I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general, because they had been transferred to me.

MARGARET WARNER: Comey pulled then-Solicitor General Ted Olson out of a dinner party, and the two met late with Card and Gonzales at the White House. The next day, Comey said, he learned the wiretapping program had been reauthorized without Justice Department approval. Comey drafted a letter of resignation.

JAMES COMEY: I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn’t stay.

So to get this straight- our current Attorney General (Gonzales) who at the time was the White House counsel for the president (George W. Bush) was sent to strong-arm our former Attorney General (Ashcroft) while the latter was recovering from surgery to certify a (probably illegal) program he had already decided not to certify. Was Bush hoping that his buddy John would be doped up enough to acquiesce? And was Gonzo given his currrent post for his willingness to bully a sick man?

This entire episode, as revealed by James Comey’s testimony, a man who by all accounts only wanted to do what is best for this country and our system of Justice, is a shining example of the kind of ‘leadership’ that emanates from the White House since 2001. Take what you want. Bully those who oppose you. Ignore the laws. Lie to the people. And then reward the people who do the dirty work.

I never liked John Ashcroft much, but now that I know that even he believed Bush was going too far makes me dislike him a little less.

(A post yesterday touched on the Comey testimony but quickly devolved into a debate on the NSA program itself. If you want to continue that discussion, please do so there. If you’d like to share your thoughts on the mafia political tactics employed with regards to the NSA program, this is the place to be.)

(cross posted at Common Sense)

[tag]James+Comey, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Bush, NSA+wiretapping+program, terrorist+surveillance+program, mafia+politics[/tag]

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  1. 5 Responses to “Mafia Politics- Or Why I’m Almost Missing John Ashcroft”

  2. By SteveIL on May 17, 2007 | Reply

    Has anybody bothered to verify this with Ashcroft?

    35% of Democrats seem to think Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened. Is who caused or knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks one of those Bush “lies” as well?

  3. By Craig R. Harmon on May 18, 2007 | Reply

    I do find it troubling that they would go to Ashcroft, while in intensive care, after he had ceded his authority to Comey, to obtain what Comey refused to give, even if Ashcroft. Even if Ashcroft had signed off on it, his signature would have been meaningless. They may as well have had ME sign off on it for all that would have meant. For this reason, I don’t think it matters whether Ashcroft was fer it or agin it. His opinion, at that point, was irrelevant.

  4. By SteveIL on May 18, 2007 | Reply

    I concede that point. But as I mentioned here, I don’t believe Gonzales and Card knew that Comey and Ashcroft came to an agreement that changes needed to be made to the program, one that Ashcroft had recertified over 20 times in two years. So I can understand why they wanted to get the recertification from Ashcroft, and he told them that Comey was the acting AG, in effect telling them that Comey was running things and what Comey said was good enough for him (Ashcroft). After reading the testimony, I don’t see an attempt at strong-arming, and Comey testified that he was never threatened by the administration in order to force him to recertify the program. And Bush did allow the changes to be implemented even though there was no DoJ certification. And as you commented, Comey didn’t say whether or not the non-certification was legal or illegal, and seemed to refuse to speculate on that.

  5. By Craig R. Harmon on May 18, 2007 | Reply

    SteveIL,

    Well, “strong arm tactics” aren’t words that I would use. It was, however, (1) a clear attempt to circumvent proper authority. The man was under sedation. His signature, had Ashcroft given it, would have carried no legal weight anyway.

    It was (2) foolish, in my opinion, because they must have known that Ashcroft could not have authorized the program at that point as a matter of law and due to health situation and so it could not have accomplished anything worth accomplishing; (3) contrary to the wishes of Mrs. Ashcroft, whose wishes, I would think, common courtesy should have been enough, even if legal protocol was not, to keep them out of Ashcroft’s room — although they may not have known her wishes, nevertheless common courtesy would have called for them to enquire as to her wishes. I can understand your understanding why they did what they did but it was just (4) wrong morally to impose upon a sick man, given that he was not then in authority; (5) improper from a protocol standpoint; (6) uncouth (a purely subjective evaluation on my part); and (7) uncalled for — I’m trying not to overstate this and I don’t think I am, it was all of those things. It just wasn’t illegal, so far as I can tell.

    I agree also that Comey testified that he was not threatened and that he was not retaliated against or punished in any way for his opposition. If all you mean to say is that he wasn’t strong-armed, assuming his testimony is accurate (and I assume it was) then I agree with you. He wasn’t.

    I guess I just can’t defend the actions of Alberto Gonzales or Andrew Card or whoever it was that might have been behind their hospital visit. A while back I decided that Gonzales is not the man for the position. He needs to go. This is just further confirmation for me of that.

  6. By SteveIL on May 21, 2007 | Reply

    I think we’re in agreement; Gonzales should not be the AG and should be gone. I’m not defending Gonzales because he deserves to remain AG; I just don’t believe he’s done anything illegal.

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